No decision on 'Ralph bucks' until September

Premier Ralph Klein says Albertans will hear in September if they are to receive another round of prosperity cheques.

Premier Ralph Klein says Albertans will hear in September if theyare toreceive another round of prosperity cheques.

Klein is meeting with his caucus Monday in Calgary to talk about what to do with money not yet earmarked from the province's record $8.7-billion surplus.

Last week the premier raised the possibility of dipping into the pot to give Albertans a second round of prosperity cheques.

Hosting his last Stampede breakfast before his retirement, Klein said Monday he still favours giving some of that money back to Albertans. However, he wants to wait a few months before asking his caucus to consider another round.

"If the money is there, I'd like to distribute it," he said.

Rebates cost $1.4 billion

In January, the Alberta government sent $400 cheques —known variously as resource-rebate cheques, prosperity cheques or"Ralph bucks" — to virtually every man, woman and child in the province. The rebate program cost $1.4 billion.

Klein told reporters Monday the government's surplus is running about $1 billion ahead of projections. He wants to see how the province's finances look in September before asking his caucus whether it supports another prosperity bonus, he said.

At Monday's meeting the caucuswill also discuss how much it will cost to repair schools in the province, said Klein.

Alberta Education Minister Gene Zwozdesky recently agreed after touring six schoolsthatCalgary's school boards need cash for repairs to leaky roofs and mechanical overhauls.

More cheques controversial

Finance Minister Shirley McClellan wasn't a big fan of the prosperity cheques during the last round, but strong support for it in her riding has won her over.

"And for us to question whether Albertans know how to spend their own money, I think is a bit foolish," she said Monday.

Others inside the Progressive Conservative party aren't so sure.

Leadership candidates like Jim Dinning and Lyle Oberg have argued there are higher priorities for unbudgeted surpluses, such as infrastructure.

Former MLA Mark Norris, who's also running for PC leader, agrees that more cheques are a bad idea.

"If you want to give some back, do away with the health care premium for low-income singles or people, or raise the exemption before people start paying taxes, because those are the people who are really getting hammered in Alberta," he said.

Klein is expected to step down this fall. When asked if issuing more prosperity cheques in September might complicate life for the next premier, Klein said "perhaps," but added that isn't his concern.